Saturday, January 24, 2015

Our Mad Year

Busier than a box of bees at the height of summer, 2014 has been the maddest year so far in our time here at Foz da Cova.  Along with further major developments on the house (which are explained in more detail in this post), we have taught on another enjoyable 16 day Permaculture Design course at Corga da Pereira and have welcomed a new member to our family, Solomon, who is the first baby born in the village for over 50 years.

We have been blessed with plenty of help this year, more than any other, and we want to say thank you to each and every individual for their support in making things happen.

Further developments to our self build barn conversion/eco renovation

We are now in the final stages of the build.  We are currently getting the space fully closed and prepared to move in.  Our next steps will be finishing works upstairs (sanding the wooden floor, completing the chimney/bench installation, glazing the door...) as well as other jobs in the downstairs and the greenhouse (laying a stone floor in the green house, rendering downstairs, more glazing of windows and doors, putting in a stove).  Just a little more to do and we're in... Hooray!

Since the last post on this blog a lot has moved on with the house, including...

Installing the bottle wall
Bottle wall with an internal Cavity

Mortar is a mix of lime, clay and sand

Bottles decreasing in size to the top

Closing in up to central tyre stack which supports the main beam

Building up other bottle wall on westward side of main beam

This wall will have no internal cavity, instead each bottle will be capped with a clear glass jar to increase light gain

Rendering inside and out

We started with a pointing layer, then quickly realized that it was not necessary and that we could build up to the final finishing layer in one go (this is only advisable when using lime, not with cement)  

With three of us working on it, the render on the south wall went up quickly

Working in the rain made this tarp essential for the render to not wash off
One wall, the biggest, done!
West wall in process
Some pretty precarious positions to sling mud from. 
Then we moved inside for more messy fun
Inside North wall

Inside South wall

Greenhouse construction 
Preparing Euc uprights and developing our plan


Working on the roof

Finished frame work
Polycarbonate  plastic sheets on and windows going in

Automatic window openers on the top venting windows to regulate temperature
First plants in.
Preparing framework for the door

 Green roof in process

Treating retaining fascia boards

Fascia board going up (west wall)
Hard core helper crew from the Hive come to help for a day. Pulling the rubber membrane into place.
Place the first larger stones, to keep the drainage "Valleys"clear. Them more smaller grade gravel poured on top
Excess rubber cut off
Folding back and fixing into place

Setting the the runoff and putting in  the gravel retaining mesh 
Runoff tube set

Chain in place on west wall to direct and pacify runoff
Inside stone floors

Laying under-floor cork insulation and tubing for floor temperature control (excess hot water from wood stove tank will cycle in winter, and cold river water will flow through in summer)     

Under floor layer down. Beginning construction of thermal mass chimney filled bench.

Upstairs floor stones laid

Downstairs floor needed a lot of fill-in material, a good chance to get rid of a whole heap of stuff laying about the place. 
Downstairs floor stones in place.  Some skilled help made for a better finish.

Fitting the Ceiling Boards

View out of the west window
Doing some fun little bits around the place

Fitting upstairs door
Making a hand rail for the bridge

 Other tasks we achieved (we couldn't put photos of everything!) include:
Making the upstairs wooden floor
Putting a pulley system on the eaves windows
Carrying many cubic meters of materials from the car park to the house


 The arrival of Solomon Miguel

July brought us another blessing in the safe, smooth and gentle arrival of our new son Solomon, who was born at home on a hot and sunny Sunday afternoon.  In perfect timing, we had managed to finish the installation of a solar hot water heating system just a few weeks before so it was easy to fill the birthing tub and to have the water birth we had visioned for him.  This was hugely beneficial, enabling Rosie to relax into the contractions with the supporting, soothing effect of warm water.  We had a mid-husband ready to come and help but once Rosie was in the water it all happened very quickly and in the end he only made it after the birth.  We felt calm and confident about the birth and were very happy to be able to deliver our baby ourselves.  Another beautiful part was that big brother Lowarn, who had been present throughout the process, was watching as we lifted his baby brother up, face first, out of the water.  It was a truly magical experience for us and one for which we are so grateful.

He is now 6 months old and just starting to cut his first teeth, but other than that not much bothers a him and he's a gentle, joyful, jolly little chap, up for sharing a smile and chat in his own tongue with most anyone.

 Beautiful art work done by two of our students on the PDC

Another successful Pdc at Corga da Pereira

This year's course was another empowering experience.  Even though we had less participants this time, a couple of mid course departures (due to personal issues) and a few late arrivals, the course went very well and we were pleased by the groups strength of cohesion by the end of the time.

In terms of practical achievements, it seems as ever that the smaller the group the greater the will power to get things done. The participants dug a swale, made a hugel bed, helped build a compost water heater, did net and pan tree planting, began a superadobe and cob wall and moved the pig pen.  
The process of building a hugel bed

The crew with a newly finished and planted bed!
Creating areas of net and pan tree plantings

As well as this there was a good mix of activities: lessons (including powerpoint presentations, white board sessions and plenty of discussion), games, observation walks, yoga, circus skills, creative exercises and a series of personal exercises which participants did in their own time.

Juggle jam


The course was enriched further by the input of other teachers again, this time Ricardo and Anabel came to give a thorough and in depth introduction to appropriate house design and eco build methods and to lead the super adobe/cob workshop and Kev returned for the appropriate tech/practical 12 volt systems day.  What with this, Nigel's ram pump session and Emma's soap making demonstration the course was varied, interesting and crammed full of new knowledge and skills.  Thank you to all teachers involved.
Getting hands on with 12 volt system setup

Each participant brought their own special input to the whole experience and it was a pleasure to meet and begin to get to know them all.  Thank you all of you.
Once again, we were impressed with the final designs which were well thought out and well presented at the end of the course, demonstrating how much they had learned.  One group created a 3D model in clay to make their presentation which was an innovative idea, a very interesting way to explain their design and a first in our teaching experience so far. 

We also want to thank Family Green for all the effort and energy they put in before and during the course to ensure it ran smoothly with happy, well fed students and a beautiful place to learn.

It was a pleasure, as ever, to share in the process of learning and spreading Permaculture awareness.  This course was different to the others we have taught on so far as a friend was there to take care of Lowarn while we were in teaching sessions which made it a more enjoyable experience for all of us and. we feel, improved the quality of the teaching as we were able to be more focused and supportive to the group.  This was reflected in the many positive comments we received from participants after the course.

Made by the daughter of one course participant and signed by everyone
Now that we are four, and while Solomon is so young, we are rethinking the way that we will be teaching courses.  While we are both individually capable of teaching the courses, we want to continue teaching together, as having two teachers on hand helps with facilitation and ensuring that each individuals learning needs are provided for.  Therefore we are starting to run courses on the land here, both intensive PDCs and shorter courses, as well as teaching on courses in the local area where we have support to help with the children.  We are also interested to hear from anyone who is interested in hosting courses throughout the country and would like a teacher to come in as, in that case, Josh will come and lead the course.  If anyone has interest or queries about courses with us, please feel free to get in touch.